Sourav Ganguly – A force that galvanized Indian cricket
In a land obsessed with cricket, more often than not, cricketers are not just professionals playing a simple old game of cricket. Here, they are larger than life characters whose doings or undoings on the cricket field influence more than a billion people at a time. Here, the journey from being ‘somebody’ to ‘nobody’ is a very short one and more often than not, it can be a hard world being a cricketer. Still, there are some, who, with their unprecedented abilities rise to the big occasions and leave everyone around gasping for breath. While some of them command respect from the world because of their exemplary unmatched talent, whereas others with their strong work ethics and dedication towards the game.
Then there is the third kind, the kind which with its sheer presence and charismatic demeanor galvanizes those around them and embarks them into a journey of self realization. Sourav Chandidas Ganguly was definitely the third kind. Dada, as he is popularly known in Bengal, was one the most fascinating Indian cricketer to have ever played the game.
Born in an affluent family in Kolkatta, Ganguly was introduced into the world of cricket by his elder brother Snehasish. After playing for his school and state teams, Ganguly got his first opportunity to play for India in 1992 against Australia. A lackluster batting performance along with some disciplinary issues led to him being dropped from the Indian team. He was termed as “arrogant” at his refusal to carry drinks and his attitude towards the game was openly questioned. But, Ganguly was a born ‘Maharaja’. And Maharajas rule, not serve. They are masters of their own destiny and rise to big occasions so that others around them stand up and take notice.
A test century on his debut at Lord’s four years later. An innings filled with a combination of immaculate timing and deft touches, Indian cricket had found a new hero. Along with Rahul Dravid, (who made his test debut in the same match) they came as breath of fresh air into Indian cricket which at that time seem to be overly dependent on Sachin Tendulkar. Ganguly quickly followed this ton with another one in the next test at Trent Bridge and put aside all doubts about his credentials as a regular member of the India team. Soon, he was promoted to open the batting in ODIs and, along with Sachin Tendulkar, they formed the most destructive opening pair in the history of the game.
Personally, I was always fascinated by watching great left handed batsmen bat. Sir Garfield Sobers, Graeme Pollock, Alvin Kalicharan, Brain Lara, Mathew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist – all these great southpaws had a certain amount of flamboyance attached to their styles of batting. Ganguly was more than that; he was a unique mix of power and touch. Those elegant cover drives and destructive square cuts made his batting a treat to the eye. Also, his ability to use his feet and loft sixes at will created havoc in the minds of left arm spinners. Ganguly’s batting style earned him admirers all round the world. And most of the times, his biggest admirer batted at his opposite end, Rahul Dravid, who once famously quoted on Ganguly “On the off side, first there is God, and then there is Sourav Ganguly.”
Great Leaders are born, not made. And Ganguly was a born prince, so leadership had to come naturally to him. After being handed over the captaincy of the Indian team after the match fixing scandal in 2000, Ganguly, along with John Wright, changed the way India looked at the game a cricket. A talented, but directionless and timid bunch of individuals were forged into a bold, fearless unit who dared to look straight into the eyes of the opposition. He made them believe that winning is not everything, it is the only thing.
The mighty Aussies were the first to get the taste of this new bold India during the Border-Gavasker Trophy in 2001, where India came back to win the series after being asked to follow-on during the 2ndtest. A year later, during the final of the Natwest series in 2002 in England, Ganguly took off his shirt at the balcony of Lords to celebrate India’s stunning win, no wonder Indian cricket had evolved by then. The following year in 2003, he led Team India to a World Cup final in South Africa after a long gap of 20 years. Soon, Ganguly turned out to be India’s most successful captain ever.
In cricket, life is not always a vacation. It always has its own sheer of ups and downs and Ganguly’s life was no different. The infamous Chappel-Ganguly spat in 2005 and a dip in his batting form meant that Ganguly was soon dropped from the Indian side which made many believe that his merry days as a cricketer were up and over.
But the word ‘give up’ was never part of Ganguly’s dictionary. No one, apart from him, was going to decide his expiry date as an Indian cricket. His constant persistence at domestic cricket made sure that he made an astonishing comeback to the Indian team in 2006 against South Africa. But, life was never the same for Ganguly. Although he performed consistently after his comeback, when he also got his highest test score of 239* against Pakistan in Bangalore, he was still in and out of the Indian team on a regular basis. In 2008, Ganguly finally decided to hang his boots at the end of Border Gavasker Trophy, with India clinching the series 2-0, and marking the end of a remarkable career.
Rated by Wisden as the sixth greatest One day batsmen of all time, Ganguly finished his ODI career as the second highest run getter for India and the fifth highest overall. He was also one of only eight batsmen to amass more than 10,000 runs in ODIs. His 22 ODI centuries along with 16 test centuries made him the second most successful Indian batsman, after Tendulkar. He was also one of the three players in the world to achieve amazing treble of 10,000 runs, 100 wickets and 100 catches in ODI cricket history, the others being Tendulkar and Jayasuriya.
While some said that he couldn’t play the short ball, others laughed at his athleticism on the field. Many thought that his behavior was ungentlemanly and lacked sportsman spirit. Whether it was turning up late for tosses, slow over-rates, or faking injuries, criticism was always a part and parcel of Ganguly’s life.
But Ganguly’s world was different, it was a world full of aggression, a world which inspired us to win, a world which taught us the never-say-die attitude, a world which made us believe in our abilities, a world which taught us to rise from the ashes; It was the world of “DADAGIRI”.